Community management not for fainthearted

There’s an old saying that doctors bury their mistakes, lawyers gaol their mistakes and journalists publish theirs.

Social media managers not only publish their mistakes – they have their mistakes raked over in real time for all to see.

And if your ‘mistake’ hits the big time, you can expect opinion columns, analysis and derision to appear in the mainstream media within hours.

Being a Community Manager is a seriously brave occupation to undertake. And it’s never more nerve-racking than when you’re about to see a new campaign go live online.

It’s a nail-biting time, because we’ve entered a cycle where tweets  (in particular) can have the opposite effect to what you intended and within minutes your carefully-crafted campaign can take on a life of its own. Of course this post is inspired in part by the so-called ‘disaster’ of the #qantasluxury hashtag competition. I can’t imagine what the Qantas social media team was going through at that time, but I’m fairly sure there would have been some stomach-turning moments and sleepless nights.

Community managers publish their mistakes
Community managers publish their mistakes

The role of Community Manager is a relatively new one. It certainly wasn’t in the career counselling handbook when I graduated from high school. Community Managers take care of online spaces such as Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts on the more mainstream networks, through to custom-built and owned platforms, such as online gaming networks or sports enthusiast chatrooms. They may come from all sorts of backgrounds and combine myriad experiences, including website management, marketing, advertising, community engagement and digital – or their specialist background that the community focuses on, eg sports, IT, fashion, architecture.

The best Community Managers nurture their communities and  moderate the space to keep it friendly and on-track. They post interesting content that encourages engagement. They also keep up with technical changes to platforms, the availability of new tools, and sites’ evolving terms and conditions. Some of them work in difficult areas where a duty of care is required, such as spaces dealing with young people, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse and so on.

And the best Community Managers have maturity (not in years but in persona), tact, empathy, creativity, foresight and humour.

It’s a big ask to constantly require that of someone.

To add to the mix: professional Community Managers are often part of a bigger communications team, which may take in public  relations professionals, marketers, lawyers, HR and management. They don’t always have a say in the online content being shared or the campaign being created – they may just be the conduit.

It’s a role that also has many rewards. There’s great satisfaction in seeing your content inspire others, your engagement metrics go through the roof, and your company’s or clients’ goals being reached. You can have an impact on people’s lives, inspiring them to great actions, just as you can if you work in mainstream media, offline community engagement or public relations.

But it’s not for the fainthearted. Thank goodness Community Managers have their own online communities to support each other …

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